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After giving 63 invited talks or workshops this year for Now You See It, hosted by lovely people in universities, corporations, technology centers, K-12, nonprofits, libraries, and assessment agencies, in the U.S. plus the UK, Hong Kong, and Thailand, there is one question I’m asked more than any other:  how do you deal with jet lag?  what’s your secret?   The fact is, I don’t have any secret, but I have lots of really sensible, practical, self-indulgent advice.   Here it goes, with utterly no science but a lot of experience to back it up, in no particular order:

  • I do not “train” for jet lag.  I don’t change my schedule, eat special foods, any of that.  Not before.  Not after.
  • I do eat pretty healthily and varied food pretty much all the time and I don’t vary that (i.e. by eating too rich foods or too much salty food) when I travel.   And a personal quirk:  I don’t mind cereal for dinner sometimes or left over amazing chicken for breakfast and, if I get into a hotel room late, I don’t mind being ripped off by the mini-bar.   Not going to bed hungry OR over-full is important to my not being jetlagged.
  • I drink tons of liquids.  I know bottled water stinks for the environment but I never get on the plane without bottled water and I drink it all before we land and I get more water from the flight attendant.   Which leads to another travel secret . . .
  • I sit on the aisle.  If you drink as much water to stay hydrated as I do, you sit on the aisle or you’re an idiot because there’s always some snoring lout in the aisle seat who cannot be budged and anxiety adds to jet lag.  It just does.
  • I bring all the stupid reading material I don’t get to read at home and watch all the idiotic tv shows and movies (including good ones) I never get to watch at home.   I try NOT to work on planes.  Really.  If you give 63 talks on your “leave” year (the joke in my office: Cat’s on leave, meaning she’s always leaving . . .), you look forward to airplanes as the time to indulge and unwind.   I read People magazine and stay up-to-date on all the popular culture figures I don’t have time to see on their various reality shows and what not.  I don’t dread plane time, I indulge it.   (NB:  I wish I could sleep on planes but I rarely do except when I get bumped to first class on international flights and can stretch out.)
  • When I arrive at a new location, I try to throw down my bags in my hotel room and immediately go for a walk and take in as much air and sunshine as possible.  I try to walk every day.  I do believe this helps set the clock to the new time.   The same is true when I return home.  Get outside!
  • I always invest, when abroad or somewhere special, in a room with a view.  This may not seem like a cure for jetlag but it is for me.  So if the choice for extreme international travel is one less day’s travel and the extra money for a room with a view, I’d rather have the view.  I am extremely lazy, even self-indulgent, when I go abroad and work hard not to overbook my tourism and I also sleep whenever I want.  If I am in a beautiful room, with a beautiful view, and just loll around in bed and look out, I feel so lucky.   I don’t feel the urgent need to force myself to go out and be a tourist every second because the room has a view that itself is an amazement.   This won’t suit everyone but I think it is a holdover from my camping days.  If the scenery is great, I don’t need to hike every mountain . . . or see every temple or museum.   This won’t work for everyone but it works for me and is part of my basic attention philosophy (attention is about the choices we make so I contrive to make this one work for me; it may not for you!  So think about it and make the decision based on your past experiences.)
  • I don’t oversleep during the day–because I do like to be in bed at a decent hour to try to get over the jetlag.   But I do sleep, I nap, in fact I nap whenever I want.  If I’m tired, I take the afternoon off.  If it’s a good hotel with a lovely view, you can bet the bed is comfy and just to lie in bed is such a wondrous indulgence for me.  So it all feels amazing.  If I can request a hotel room with a window that opens, and lets in fresh air, that’s the best.  The room with the view makes me feel like the luckiest person on the planet–not a victim of jetlag!  A lot of jetlag comes from over-zealous working and over-zealous touristing that exhausts you on top of jetlag.
  • I’m not a “completist” when I travel.  I assume I won’t see everything and assume that it is better to enjoy the trip than feel like you’ve exhausted all there is to see–and exhausted yourself too.  So, when I’m working hard on trips, I might spend the time not working in bed, reading more of the cheesy popular culture from planes or a great book I’ve wanted to read.   And then I tour about when I’m feeling hardy.  I miss some things but enjoy the life on the road a lot more.   So, for me, it is a win.
  • My best insomnia trick derives from my reading on the brain and attention.  I plan for insomnia before I go to bed.  I have the book I’m reading (selected because it is interesting but not too emotionally stressful), my glasses, and one of those tiny book lights that clips on the page, lying at my bedside, right where I can reach them without moving or turning on a light.   Knowing they are there, makes insomnia, including jetlag, lot’s less stressful.  If I wake up, I think to myself, ‘great, I’ll read a few more pages of Bel Canto‘ [the current book on my reading table, it’s been there two months, I might read three or four pages every second or third night, and I even bring it with me when I travel, same set up].  We know that turning on an overhead light tends to disturb sleep/waking patterns but the directed light on a page actually fatigues your eyes, especially if you read lying down in your normal sleeping position, and as long as the book is interesting but not too interesting, it helps turn you back to sleep.  And if it doesn’t, you’ve been able to read an interesting book and, in my crazy 63 book talks life, that’s a plus too.
  • Whenever I can, I use the gym at the hotel.  But not too strenuously.  I concentrate on stretches and low stress exercise, things that relax.
  •  If there is a pool or a whirlpool or a sauna, I try to use it.  I take baths.  I do anything and everything that is easy, that I don’t have time to do at home, that is designed to make the trip feel special, not like a wreck of too much, woe is me, I’m missing, I’m losing, I’m falling behind, I’m wearing myself out.
  • On flights, I really do all those exercises for thrombosis–twirling my feet, stretching my arms, moving my head and (see the hydration point above and the aisle seat) I make sure to get up about once an hour and when I do, I do some toe raises and stretches.  I like the feel of it.  No idea if it works, but it feels good so I do it.
  • I sometimes will have a drink on planes but often do not.  I will have one bag of pretzels or peanuts but not too much high-salt food.  I try to remember to bring something healthy on board with my water–such as a veggie tray from Starbuck’s–but I often forget and just don’t worry about it.
  • I carry a lot of gum and sudafed because I do get plugged up ears and that works for me.
  • I never, ever use noise-reduction headphones since, for me, they increase the possibility of migraines and of jetlag. For some people, these are what makes travel pleasant; for me, a disaster.  If you have found major headaches after or during  a flight, this may be a cause. Check it out.   Test it for yourself to see if it makes a difference for you.
  • I avoid books and articles that warn me that too much travel is taking a year off my life, going to cause me to have seizures, is ruining my health.   Worry ruins your health.  We know that.   I try not to worry it.
  • If I’m stuck in airports, I try hard not to panic.  That means, for book tours, I indulge myself by arriving a day early and, if the schedule is tight, I then leave immediately AFTER the talk.   That means I don’t add panic to frustration–which makes things lots, lots worse.   I cut myself a lot of slack if I’m going to work myself this hard, in other words.  No gonzo deadlines when the airlines control my life.  I’ve seen too many executives in melt-downs and freak-outs over a 30-minute delay.  That’s ridiculous.   I assume there will always, always be a 30-minute delay and build that in.
  • I try to always fly the same airline, although I don’t love it, so I have lots of frequent flyer miles and I spend a lot of time in the (usually but not always) much quieter Admiral’s Club that often has natural lighting (a real plus).   I upgrade when I can.  It makes a huge difference.  When not, I go for the exit row.
  • If I feel panicked about a deadline, I do break the “no work on plane” rules, especially on the way home.  I hate the idea of getting home to huge work overload so I almost always do some quantity of work on the road and then make a Google Doc “to do” list that I and my assistant can see for when I get home, to organize what I have to do instead of letting it sit there on my brain worrying about not doing it.  It’ll get done if I have everything in a good place for it and can focus when I am home.   But sometimes deferring and getting some amount of work done in hotel rooms doesn’t take care of it and then I work on planes–but only when my work panic exceeds my threshold and my “stay calm, enjoy the ride” rule is over-ridden by my work panic.  I finish as quickly as possible, invest in the Gogo or whatever other online system they have, but then finish quickly and go back to my offline life and my People magazine.

I’m sure there are lots of other tricks but those are my favorites and I’ll add more as I think of them.  You’ll see that most involve some form of self-indulgence, some form of giving yourself a break, some form of aiming low in order to experience more fully, some rewarding of quality over quantity, and some form of

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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